Archive | July 2013

The Key to the Treasure

I think I was in third grade when I received my copies of Key to the Treasure, and its sequel, Clues in the Woods. The books, by Peggy Parish with illustrations by Paul Frame, were a pair of mysteries starring three siblings, Liza, Bill, and Jeb.

Hardcover copies of two books.

My old copies of these books are battered, but each still in one piece. (Click to embiggen)

My copies bear the Weekly Reader Book Club imprint. I remember reading and re-reading them many times as a kid.

I also remember, a few years later, finding another book in the series in a library. Turns out Parish wrote a total of six books in this particular series. From the descriptions of the plots, I think the book I found in the library was Pirate Island Adventure, which is actually the fourth book in the series. I remember being really disappointed by the book, primarily because the mystery solved in that book is nearly identical to the mystery in the first book.

It was probably also disappointing because the books seem clearly aimed at kids aged about 8 and under, and I was probably 11 or 12 when I found my third.

The books are currently out of print, so while I’m tempted to order the four volumes I don’t own, my choices are to spend either hundreds of dollars for old copies in “new condition,” or more reasonable prices for battered used copies.

Parish is, apparently, more famous for the Amelia Bedelia series, which I’d never heard of until I tried to track down information on these other books just this weekend.

I’ve re-read Key to the Treasure a few times as an adult (yes, including once this weekend). It doesn’t hold up too badly. The portrayal of the elderly Native America woman who had left a collection of “Indian artifacts” to the grandfather of the protagonist’s grandfather is a bit cringe worthy. And the artifacts themselves, representing a mish-mash of tribes—including the famous Gilligan’s Island Tropical Witch Doctor Tribe—is a bit more than cringe-worthy.

The dialog is a bit stilted, giving me flashbacks to my 1928 edition of a Hardy Boy’s mystery where the boys get scolded by their aunt because they got their ties messed up running home from school. Not sounding like the way real kids talked, even in 1966 when the first book was printed, but more like certain people thought children’s books should sound back then.

But I still enjoyed it. And even though I’ve read it a zillion times, enough years have passed since the last reading that I wasn’t certain how they were going to solve the puzzle. So at its heart the story still works.

And it passed the Lewis test. C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

Why I hate hay fever, reason #5839

Technically, this one probably ought to be titled “Why I hate MY hay fever, reason #7” or something.

Because my overeager immune system reacts to apparently every pollen, every spore, and every mold it encounters, and because I live in the Pacific Northwest on the west side of the Cascade Mountains (where winter mostly consists of lots of rain with the temperature only occasionally flirting with freezing), I have mild-to-horrid hay fever symptoms for a minimum of ten months out of the year.

And the variation from mild to horrid and back again is not predictable. Sometimes the pollen count goes down, but the symptoms get worse, for instance.

This particular reason is a consequence of all those aforementioned things:

I can’t tell the difference between the first few days of a cold or flu and just waking up on a given day.

So, Wednesday night/Thursday morning I didn’t sleep well. It wasn’t a night of tossing and turning, staring at the clock, wishing that I could fall asleep. I slept. I just woke up about every 40 minutes or so for no discernible reason. It wasn’t until the second alarm went off in the morning and I dragged myself to the bathroom that I realized that I was too fuzzy headed to actually attempt to do any work. So I called in sick, took some Nyquil, and stumbled back to bed.

Even then, I was taking the Nyquil because it felt like a worse-than-usual hay fever day and I hoped the Nyquil would make me sleep for real for a few hours. I didn’t take it because I thought I was sick. It just felt like a slightly worse than usual hay fever morning.

I vaguely remember Michael saying he was leaving for work. I blinked. I rolled over, and saw that more than six hours had passed.

I felt better only insofar as my brain was capable of thinking in whole paragraphs, rather than just simple sentences. My head, sinuses, and throat all still hurt. But it was, still, only at the “worse than usual hay fever day” stage.

I logged in remotely to work and took care of a few urgent issues. I ordered pizza for dinner, chatted with Michael, and so on. It continued to just feel like a worse than usual hay fever day, though with added time disorientation because I’d slept most of the day. I went to bed early, this time taking Nyquil before hand.

Friday I woke up still feeling like a worse than usual hay fever day. Friday is my usual work from home day, so I slept in a little as usual. The only real difference from a usual work from home day was that I took non-drowsy cold tablets.

Friday night, after we got home from dinner, Michael crashed because he was feeling worn out. But he often does that on Fridays, particularly during hot and hottish weather, because he works all week in a warehouse.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, Michael woke me up. It wasn’t intentional, he was just feeling extra cold and trying to get the blankets that had bunched up under me. He muttered something about thinking he had a fever. My thought at the time was, “Darn! I’ll have to drive to our friend, Sheryl’s place, without Michael.” And I conked out.

Hours later, when I shuffled to the bathroom, I slowly became aware that my aching sinuses, headache, ringing ears, sore throat, and queasy stomach were not all hay fever symptoms. And the house felt cold, even though the thermometer said it wasn’t.

I thought back about when I last took any medicine that had acetaminophen or something else that would mask a fever. It had been about ten hours, so I got out a thermometer.

Fever. Not a high one, but higher than my typical low-grade fever.

Yuck.

So I called to beg off on Writer’s Night (we weren’t hosting this month). I made some breakfast. Checked on Michael, then spent a few hours trying to work up the energy to go to the store to get soup and juice and general groceries.

I only had three dizzy-ish spells in the store.

The hardest part was putting the groceries away when I got home. I really just wanted to collapse.

I sat down, intending to just rest a bit before calling to cancel gaming tomorrow.

I conked out for almost four hours.

And that pretty much brings us to now.

I don’t have a fever any more. Throat and tummy are no longer being icky. My ears are back to their normal level of tinitus. My sinuses and head still hurt more than a typical hay fever day.

But I have developed a mild cough.

Yuck.

Not that I would have necessarily done much differently if I had realized Thursday that this wasn’t just hay fever. But it’s still irritating to realize I was probably sick for two days before I knew it.

I hate hay fever.

I used to do Friday Links

Before Twitter, I used to collect interesting links to news and news-ish things that I read over the course of the week, and then post them in a list on my old LiveJournal on Fridays. I called it “Friday Links.”

When I left my old job and switched to contracting, I had less freedom regarding what I could do during my lunch break. So, I got out of the habit. And people drifted away from LiveJournal. A few of us diehards still poke around there, but most of the folks who used to regularly read me there have gone elsewhere.

Now, I use my iPad to read news during my lunch break, and it’s easy to just tap and send the links to Twitter. Which isn’t quite the same.

I miss doing it. A few people who used to regularly read the old blog have mentioned that they miss my Friday Links.

So, here are a few:

Science Fiction’s Queer Problem

Image of the Day: “A Galaxy So Ancient It Shouldn’t Exist”

Elizabeth Warren Proves She’s Smarter Than A CNBC Host (Video)

Tyrannosaurus rex hunted for live prey

I Bet I Can Create A 25 Million-Year-Old False Alarm, Says Biologist E.O. Wilson

Dying Gay Man Flies to Maryland to Marry His Partner of Twenty Years (You may need a tissue or three)

The Oatmeal: How to Suck at Your Religion (some part of it will offend just about everyone, but it’s hilarious…)

Police Reports Illustrated: The Waitress and the Boiling Water (cartoon based on an actual police report)

The Wizard of Ahhhhs: note that the song is entirely a cappella. Great retelling of the movie:

And if you need some cute in your life, check out this youtube from winter before last at the Seattle Aquarium of a mama sea otter, Aniak, and her pup, Sekiu, when Sekiu was only one day old:

What-aged?

When we’re kids, we have little understanding of age. We understand that some kids are older than us, and some younger. We understand that adults get to do what they want and tell us what to do. We understand that some people are old. But exactly what all those mean is very vague.

And we want simple categories. A teen-ager is anyone aged 13 through 19, right? First graders are 5 or 6, right? So how old is a parent? How old are grandparents?

I was the oldest child in my family, and my parents were teen-agers when they married. My paternal grandparents had been 20 & 18 when they married, and my dad was their oldest, as well. My mom’s parents married similarly young, and while she was their second child, they were still quite young when she was born. That’s one reason most of my great-grandparents were around as active, alert adults throughout my childhood and teens.

My middle school basketball coach had been one of my dad’s high school buddies. His oldest son was in the same grade as I was. My middle school wrestling coach, on the other hand, had been my dad’s high school wrestling coach. Yet, his oldest son was only one grade ahead of me in school.

When you’re in middle school, you understand that adults can keep having children into their 30s and 40s. You can understand that the coach’s son who was only a year older than me had two sisters, both more than 10 years older than he was, and therefore coach could be both the parent of a middleschooler and the grandparent of one or more small children at the same time. But when you’re younger, the notion that parents can be a wide variety of ages isn’t even on your radar.

I had an example closer to home. My Mom’s baby brother (half-brother) is only three years older than me. So, one of my uncles was a senior in high school when I was a freshman in high school.

A friend of mine from college had a bad habit of hitting on high school girls. It was only a bit embarrassing when we were in college, because we weren’t that far out of high school ourselves. But when he kept doing it into his late twenties, it was getting more than a little disturbing.

But I don’t have much cause to talk. When Michael and I started dating, I was 37 and he was 27. He’s ten years younger than me, the same difference I was finding disturbing when my friend was lusting after those high school girls.

Obviously, a ten-year age difference isn’t that big of a deal when the younger person is indisputably an adult, or course.

One of my great-grandmothers was a 28-year-old widow with two small kids when she married my great-grandpa… who was only 16 years old at the time! Of course, that was nearly 100 years ago, and a 16-year-old who had been working as a ranch-hand full time for several years was not considered a child. And they stayed together for the rest of their lives, very happy together.

Then we have that much-abused term, “middle-aged.” It used to mean 50-ish, or more broadly 40-60. Men were expected to have their “mid life crisis” during the 40-60 time frame, for instance. It was sometimes defined as the third quarter of a typical lifespan. Medical and mental health people have started shifting the definition up, as life expectancy increased. I noticed a lot of people shifting it the other way, referring to anyone in their 30s as middle-aged.

I keep catching myself referring to one of the neighbors as a kid. He’s coming up on thirty, he and his girlfriend have lived together next door for more than five years. He works, pays his own bills, and is otherwise a fully functioning adult. He’s one of the most responsible people I know. When he and his girlfriend moved in, he just looked way too young to be getting his own apartment, so part of my brain pigeonholed him.

I don’t want to be that old guy who calls everyone “kid” or “son” and so on. I still feel weird when a stranger calls me “sir,” for goodness sake!

Sentences that fill me with dread, part 1

“I’m retired now, and thought I’d try to write a book about my experiences.”

This sentence might seem perfectly innocent. And anyone who has spent much time with me knows I’m always encouraging people to draw, write, sing, play instruments, and so on. I think everyone should try to make art every now and then.

I do.

But the above sentence fills me with dread when I hear it (and you may be surprised how many times I have heard that, or a close variation) in the context of someone just learning for the first time that I’m a writer (and editor and publisher). Because in that circumstance, it inevitably leads to them wanting me write their book for them.

They may not put it that way. They usually don’t believe that’s what they’re asking. They just want some advice, they say. They want someone to bounce some ideas off of, they say.

When I give them advice, they don’t like it. “First, you need to write. Don’t talk to people about your idea, sit down and start writing. Don’t know where to start? Here are some excellent books on writing. Here are my recommendations for software to use for the actual writing. Go to my writing web site (sansfigleaf.com), go to the Essays section, and click on the Writing tag. You’ll find over 60 essays I’ve already written on the writing process.”

My favorites are the ones who react to the list of books or the essays with, “I don’t have time to read all of that!” I’m only using the word “favorite” in that sentence half sarcastically. If they are that upfront with their unwillingness to learn on their own, they’re easy to deal with. “If you aren’t willing to read something that can help you achieve your dream, what makes you think anyone would want to read what you’re going to write?”

For a long time, the next most common objection was, “Why do I have to learn how to use a word processor? If my story’s good, won’t the publisher help me with that?” Trying to make them understand just how much time and expense is involved in transcribing a novel length story is always fun. Sometimes I can just go with a variant of the book answer: “If you think it’s too much trouble to learn how to do it, why do you think other people would be willing to do it for you for free?”

This usually leads to me having to explain that books which simply break even are the exception, and books that make large profits for all involved are rarer still. And no one can be certain which books will or will not take off in advance. No matter how awesome your story is, getting a lot of people to just look at it is an expensive undertaking. No one is going to take that chance on you if you make it even more expensive for them than other writers who submit completed stories in proper manuscript format.

There’s a special subset of these who will come rightout and say, “How about I tell you the stories, and you write them up for me? I’ll give you a portion of the proceeds!”

Computers have been ubiquitous in the American workplace for long enough now that fewer would-be memoirists balk at using them. But I expect a rise in the complimentary problem. “Here, let me show you what I’ve written so far!” And they send me a file that consists of a few hundreds words of babble. Sometimes it’s perfectly spelled babble, but it doesn’t make sense. Don’t get me wrong. I am the king of typos. If there is a circle in hell reserved for people who make too many typos, that’s where my soul is heading to in the afterlife. I’m not talking about typos. I’m talking about fragments that don’t quite make a sentence; sentences that don’t connect to each other; and either no paragraph breaks at all, or paragraph breaks that make no sense.

Don’t get me started on the pronoun problems. If I can find a few sentences that make sense to someone who doesn’t already know the people involved, the industry and its conventions, and so on, at all, then there will be a whole slew of he’s, she’s, him’s, and her’s with no way to be certain which he is which person.

No matter how they react to the other questions, if I keep having contact with them, they will ask for advice. However, in the middle of whatever advice I give, they will interrupt because I’m not giving them what they want. They want me to tell them some magic words which will make the whole thing just happen. Or they will try to recite one of their experiences to get me to tell them what part of the book it should go in.

The ultimate problem is that the person most likely to say, “I should write a book about my experiences” doesn’t understand books. A book, even a memoir, is not just a collection of interesting anecdotes. To be a book, there needs to be an overall narrative, something that shapes and unifies the whole thing; some sort of logical flow of one part into the next. If you’re going for a collection of barely related essays, something such as Sarah Vowel or a David Sedaris might write, each chapter or essay or whatever you call it has to have some sense of narrative completeness to it, with a theme that contributes to understanding the other sections.

Your anecdotes may be hilarious when told in person in small doses, but writing is a different language than speaking. An essay is not the same thing as an amusing anecdote. A book is more than just a collection of words. Stringing a few stories together isn’t writing a book.

There’s an old cliché that the difference between real life and fiction is that fiction must make sense. It doesn’t just apply to fiction. All writing, even writing about bizarre coincidences and strange behavior, has to make some kind of sense to the reader. A writer’s job is not simply to transcribe what happened. A writer’s job is to find that meaning, and convey it to the reader in such a way that they don’t notice that the writer is imposing a meaning on the events. A writer’s job is to fool you into thinking that the meaning he has carefully constructed is simply a fascinating experience you are having.

That isn’t something you can learn in a single evening over cocktails.

When it IS broke…

Many years ago—I think it was just before Ray and I moved in together (thus, years before Ray got sick, years before the chemo, years before he died)—I called Ray to confirm when we were next getting together.

He was crying.

It took a few minutes to get the story out of him. He’d been on his way out of a store, and he stopped to hold the door open for someone. Another person ran by on the sidewalk, bumping into Ray and knocking his shopping bag to the ground, which was followed immediately by the sound of breaking glass.

Ray had just purchased some sort of glass sculpture. I don’t know what it was of. All Ray would tell me that it was “beautiful, just beautiful.” But it had been smashed to a million pieces, he said.

I asked him what store it had been, so I could go buy him another one. But that just set him off worse, because it had been a present for me. He repeated how beautiful it was, and that he couldn’t afford to buy another one, and the person who had caused it to be smashed hadn’t even stopped to say he was sorry.

Nothing I could say or do made him feel better. And there was nothing anyone could do at that point. If we were living in a Lifetime movie, maybe the person who had knocked the bag from his hands and kept running, waving dismissively when Ray called out, would have encountered us again, and there would have been some kind of amends making.

But we don’t live in Lifetime movies. Sometimes bad things happen, and we just have to live with them. Ray got over it. Life went on.

I was reminded about that incident this week when I found another present from him broken.

I don’t know how it happened, for certain, and probably never will.

It begins a few weeks back when we were having a mini heat wave. We’d had enough hot days (for our climate) in a row that we’d decided to put the window fans up. During the summer we have mounted window fans running in the kitchen, the computer room, and the bedroom. Depending on which side of the house and what time of day it is, they’ll be either blowing fresh air in, or blowing hot air out.

So the second day the fans were going, I found a print on the floor. It’s a large piece of art our friend, Sky, made a few years ago. It’s a reclining courtesan in a green and blue kimono. It isn’t mounted in a heavy frame, it’s just matted. It’s 18 inches by 22 inches, so it isn’t a huge life-size portrait, but it’s large.

It hangs in our bedroom on the south wall. After I confirmed that Michael hadn’t taken it down for some reason, I decided that it must have been knocked down by the wind. We had fans in the window on a thermostat, and we’d forgotten to turn off the standing fan when we left for work in the morning. It had been a little windy that day. I figured there must have been some inopportune gusts of wind that knocked it off.

Never mind that it is nowhere close to the window, and other similarly lightweight pieces are hanging on the wall Closer to the fan. I figured either the wind angle had been just right, or because all of the other simply matted pieces are smaller—they hadn’t had enough surface area to catch enough wind force to bring them down.

Then this week, I found something else on the floor. In exactly the same spot the picture had landed. A resin “sculpture,” about 10 inches tall, which had been on a shelf about a foot below the picture.

Ray had given me the sculpture about a year after we moved in together. It’s an odd thing: a fairy tale castle built impossibly on a pair of rock spires coming up out of the ocean. At the time Ray gave it to me, I think he said that it reminded him of something I’d written. I didn’t remember writing about that sort of castle, but I write both sci fi and fantasy, and I tended to talk to him a lot about ideas I hadn’t yet turned into a story, so maybe it was something in one of those.

But this gets us to the part of the earlier incident that I could never tell him. Ray and I had very different tastes in decorating. We both tended to like very different kinds of kitsch (and yeah, sometimes my tastes are extremely kitschy). So when he said the glass sculpture which I never got to see was “beautiful,” I knew that there was more than a slim chance that I might have thought it hideous.

This resin thing isn’t hideous, but it’s not the sort of thing I would have ever bought myself. Even for only a quarter at a garage sale. So, even with his explanation that it reminded him of something I wrote, I didn’t quite understand why he thought I would like it.

I’m quite certain some of the things I gave him elicited the same reaction. Sometimes you think someone will like something, and you’re just completely wrong.

I haven’t kept every knick knack and tchotchke Ray ever got me. His family members asked me for some of them to remember him by. I gave a few others away to friends who expressed an interest. One particular friend, Kats, suggested when I was agonizing, about a year after Ray died, over a bunch of things that I really didn’t like but couldn’t bear to just toss, that I mail them to her (since she’s as much of a packrat as I am). She said she would find them good homes. We both knew that she would probably toss most of them, and that she was prepared to lie to me if need be about how she’d kept them all. But sometimes you need a little help deluding yourself when you’re being irrational.

This castle, though, I kept. I can’t really say why, because I don’t like it for itself. Neither do I dislike it. It’s just every time I look at it, I think of Ray trying to explain to me how it reminded him of stuff I wrote. Ultimately, it reminds me of the journey we both went through trying to learn to understand each other better.

So when I found it on the floor, broken in several places, I was more than a bit annoyed. Also, confused. I had an explanation for the picture falling down two weeks ago. This was something else. It’s too heavy to have been blown over, at least inside the house. The only other thing I found disturbed was a small plush Tigger that had been near it on the shelf. And one of the fragments that broke off was embedded, at a really weird angle, into the wooden bedstead. If it fell off the shelf, bouncing off the bedstead is almost a certainty, but it just looked odd.

We don’t live in a house, but rather a triplex. On the other side of that wall is the neighbor’s kitchen. A previous tenant had a tendency to slam the cupboards a lot, and sometimes it would make the pictures shake on our side. I haven’t heard anything like that with the couple that have lived there the last few years, but if it’s happening at a time of day when we’re not around, I wouldn’t hear it, would I?

It would be simple enough to glue the castle back together if I could find all the pieces, but I can’t. On the other hand, it’s just a silly tchotchke which, truth be told, I haven’t looked at at all in the last several years except when I decide to clean up that end of the bedroom. It’s just a thing, not a person. I should just get over it and move on.

And I will. But I don’t have to like it.

The Joi of Ponies

A gold lamé rag doll pony

Gold Dust Applejack, from Equestria Rags.

Yes, I’ve already posted a con report. Plus a couple of other blog posts related to the convention. But I always have more to say, and in this case there are some photos I still want to put up.

I’ve mentioned before my friend, Joi, who makes these fun rag doll ponies. She makes them from scraps. Her rules are that she only uses fabric from scrap bins, remainder piles, and thrift stores. So she finds fabric and says, “Oh, that would make an interesting Twilight Sparkle,” or what-have-you. She makes ponies based on characters in the series, or on original characters (by way of commission), and she makes ponies based on other things. I’ve seen her make a pony version of Carl Sagan, the classic Roman poet Virgil, Neil Gaiman’s Death, or the Mars Curiosity Rover. And she sells them online at Equestria Rags.

Cropped picture of prototype pony doll.

The Mayor Mare pony by Joi.

The first pony I bought from her wasn’t for me. It was a pony version of Mayor Mare from the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series. I had to plead a bit, because it was one of her early models where she was still figuring out how to make ponies, so she hadn’t started selling them, yet, and hadn’t planned to offer it for sale. But I really wanted to give it as a present to my husband, and I talked her into it.

A rag doll pony version of Carl Sagan.

A pony version of Carl Sagan that Joi made for Jared for his birthday.

We’ve bought more ponies since.

A few weeks before the convention, she posted pictures online of a new pony she had just finished: Applejack made from gold lamé-style fabric.

Of the characters on the show, Applejack is my favorite. Or most-favorite, since I’m the kind of person who always winds up with about five or forty favorite characters in any book or series that I get into. Anyway, of course I wanted to buy Applejack in shiny, shiny gold! Who wouldn’t?

But she was one of the ponies Joi was making explicitly for the convention. To be a successful vendor at any convention, you have to have a variety of stock. Since these are handmade (hand cut, hand stitched, hand painted, et cetera), each one is a serious investment in time. Since she makes them from scraps, that means it is very unlikely she’ll be able to make multiple ponies exactly the same.

I wanted that gold Applejack. But I also wanted her to have a successful sales experience at the con. So I had to wait until the convention to buy her, and technically I had to wait until the Dealer’s Room opened.

Another Derpy Hooves doll, with squeaker!

Squeaky Derpy was tempting me all day.

I had planned to just stand in front of her table starting a few minutes before the room opened (since I would be inside setting up my own table), just waiting there with money to hand her. This was before we discovered that we were at adjacent tables. Because of where we were, getting in and out from behind our table meant climbing over other people, so it would have been a bit awkward. At the two minutes ’til ten a.m. mark, I asked her if she was going to make me go to the other side of the table. She laughed and said we could just do the exchange now.

So for the rest of the day I had my golden Applejack on my table as a second mascot and to show folks. I had to tell several people she wasn’t for sale, but that Joi had lots of other ponies right there, and she takes commissions.

While sitting at my table, getting some writing done and occasionally selling buttons and pony toys to people, I kept watching a cute version of Derpy Hooves (a supporting character from the cartoon series) that had a squeaker. The squeaky fruit bats and ponies that Joi had were very popular. People kept squeezing them to show their friends while deciding which one to buy. I had already abused my position as a Vendor to buy one of her ponies out from under customers. And she was selling well. I figure the more people who buy her things and tell their friends, the more business she’ll get online, right?

A collection of the rag doll ponies.

Ponies I’ve gotten from Joi: Bedtime Derpy in the back, then (l to r): Gold Dust Applejack, Mayor Mare, Pinkie Pie, Gift Applejack, and Squeaky Derpy.

Michael and I also already own a lot of plushies: scores of teddy bears, tigers, otters, ponies, and so on. We didn’t really need more, right? But when I asked Michael in the evening whether it would be okay for me to buy another pony to take up room around the house, he said fine. So the second morning of the con, when I saw that Squeaky Derpy was still there, I asked if I could buy her. Which meant I had two Derpies as mascots on the table Saturday.

It’s an addiction, I know. But I ain’t going to rehab! (And these are just the ones I’ve acquired. My husband also has several!)

Internal monologue

This is a beautiful short film, amazingly written by a 17-year-old. I don’t want to spoil it. So I’ll put my comments out of sight. Don’t read them until you watch.

Read More…

Only the ponies

Ponies, Disney pins, and other merchandise on our table

The table I was sharing with Edd (MU Press) at EverfreeNW 2013.

I had a lot of fun at EverfreeNW. As mentioned earlier, I spent most of the time behind a table in the “Vendor’s Room.” I’m used to the place where people sell stuff at a con being called “Dealer’s Room” or “Dealer’s Den.”

My half of the table was selling buttons, small My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic toys, some MLP:FIM coloring and sticker books, a couple of pony-themed bumper stickers, and a few of the most recent publications from the Tai-Pan Literary & Arts Project.

Edd’s half of the table was selling Disney Pins and one of MU Press’s graphic novel-type books.

A pile of rag doll ponies

Joi was at the next table, selling rag doll ponies.

We drove down and checked into the hotel midday on Thursday the 4th. Our friends Jwyl, Sky, Anthony, RJ, Wendy, and several others (I don’t remember how much of the gang was actually there at that time) were hanging out in the lobby of the hotel so they could see people as they arrived.

The convention was happening at the Seatac Hilton, but several of us like the Marriott next door better. So a bunch of us took rooms there. It was like having our own convention within a convention. We discovered that there was a gaming convention going on at the same time in the Marriott, so both places there were lots of people walking around the hotel wearing badges on lanyards around their necks.

Cute soft plushy

A close up of Bedtime Derpy.

When I had assembled our merchandise into a display the weekend before the convention, I’d put a super cute plushie pony I’d purchased from Equestria Rags on top.

Our friend, Joi, is the genius behind Equestria Rags, and she was sharing a table with Sky in the Dealer’s Den. I made up a little sign that identified the doll as Bedtime Derpy, made by Joi, and encouraging people to go see her table. I thought that 1) Bedtime Derpy is just too cute not to be seen, 2) it would be a way for me to direct people to Joi’s work, and 3) if someone with a kid expressed interest in the doll, I would be willing to part with her, because I really think she needs to be held and cuddled by a child.

Nami, Sky, and the back of Xen's head.

Nami, Sky, and the back of Xen’s head. View from behind the tables.

The only problem with my brilliant plan was that I had completely forgotten that Sky and I had both asked, on our Vendor Applications, to have our tables next to each other. So if anyone was at my table, they were likely already looking at the ponies on Joi’s table. Oh, well, I still had a lot of fun getting people to hug Bedtime Derpy and look more closely at the rag doll ponies.

We brought my large format printer in case Sky or some of our other friends needed to print more prints or buttons. I have an Epson color inkjet that will print sizes up to 13″ by 19″ posters. I didn’t realize until we were unloading the car that I have forgotten to pack the extra ink cartridges. But we’d come down a day early, and since it was a holiday traffic had been clear, so while Michael went off to work in Con Registration, I drove back home and grabbed a few other things we’d forgotten. And Sky did need to make some new buttons, so it was a good thing.

Anthony with buttons over his eyes

Anthony goofing off in our room.

The weather wasn’t really hot, which was a big improvement over last year. But it’s warm, sunny, and high pollen season. When you combine that with sleeping in a hotel room, which always make my sinuses either dry up and ache or clog up and ache (I always assume it’s the mostly closed-system air conditioning that does it), I often feel as if I’m coming down with a cold when I’m at a con. Other people get sick after they come home, but usually not me.

The coming down sick feeling was especially bad on Saturday. I was getting cranky. My head, sinuses, and throat hurt. My eyes were itchy. And I was dozing off at the table. I was convinced I was sick. Anthony was trying to organize a run to a restaurant he liked, but we didn’t have enough transportation for everyone, and I just wanted to go curl up in bed and die by that point. So, Michael got me up to the bar at the Marriott. We’d eaten a few meals at the Marriott restaurant, and I’d been disappointed that the burgers and sandwiches I liked from earlier stays weren’t on the menu. They were on the bar menu, now!

So, I ordered soup, the Oregon Bleu Burger, and a coffee nudge. People keep asking me what a coffee nudge is. I can never remember: it’s coffee, some kind of booze, and whipped cream. And it’s really nice to drink when you’re feeling sick. According to the interwebs, a coffee nudge usually has brandy and dark creme de cacao, and sometimes coffee liqueur. I essentially inhaled the soup and the nudge, and felt a lot better.

Combining a Fluttershy hoody with a matching ninja mask.

Xen as Ninja Fluttershy at AFK Tavern.

Members of the gang that I thought were being ferried to the off-site restaurant started show up at the bar and joining us. I learned that our friend, Nami, had never had a coffee nudge, and since I was about to order my third by that time, talked her into trying one. She seemed to enjoy it.

Jared watches Nami putting on a ninja mask.

One of the only pics I got of Jared, shooting between a bunch of people.

As usual, I’m always forgetting that I have a camera in my pocket all the time, so I didn’t take many pics. I’m especially irritated that I didn’t get pictures of several of our friends.

Jwyl spent most of the weekend down in Oregon visiting Katrina and Terry. Then Katrina and Jwyl drove up and joined us for the last few hours of the convention, and more importantly, the excursion to AFK Tavern. Even more people came up from the con for that this year. Which is cool, but made it difficult to actually enjoy any one’s company at the tavern.

I know several folks left early because it was just too crowded, too loud, and some folks had other problems related to those things. I’m not as much of an introvert as some of our friends, but the whole thing got to be a bit much for me, as well, so Michael and I left early, too.

It was a fun convention. We sold pretty well. Several of our friends sold a lot of stuff. A few of us have begun to more seriously conspire to have a book to sell next year. Yes, I’m planning on coming back. I hope a bunch of our friends are, too.

A bunch of people at the end of a table.

Jwyl at the center of things at AFK Tavern.

Old geek stories

Anytime a group of geeks get together, they wind up exchanging tech support horror stories. Whether one has ever worked in a tech support type job or not, if you are a geek, there have been times when you’ve wound up helping a non-geek out of a bad situation which they created for themselves through ignorance of, ultimately, basic laws of physics.

For instance, on the bus this last week, a couple with a baby in a stroller got on in front of me. It was clear they were both bus newbies. They headed back looking for some empty seats, with space for the stroller.

This was a double-length bus, which means it is a normal bus pulling, essentially, a second bus’s worth of seats. The two pieces are joined in the center by the section that bends and flexes. The walls are accordian-style rubber, the floor consists of a round section which turns as the front half of the bus goes around the corner, then starts to straighten again as the second half follows it around the corner.

They put the baby and the carriage right on the flex. A place which, as soon as the bus took a right turn, would cease to exist temporarily. Anything in that space would be crushed between a row of seats in the front half, and a single seat mounted on the rotating part of the floor.

Crushed.

So I quickly told them that that was the part of the bus that flexed, and it was not a good place to put a child. They moved back to a different spot.

A lot of people think of geeks as computer techs, but being a geek is about being fascinated with how things work. Whether it’s the mechanics of how a pair of connected vehicles behave going around a curve, or the physics of moving a heavy weight up on incline, or how electronic devices communicate with each other, it’s all a subset of “How does it work?”

In my early days in the tech industry, I worked at a small start up. My official title was a vague Coordinator position, what I actually did was supervise the production and shipping department, write and design all the technical documentation, test some of the hardware and software, help the less tech-savvy employees with computer problems, and then fill in anywhere else as needed. Which included one day a week taking tech support calls from customers while the tech support department had their weekly meeting and training session.

We produced voice messaging/auto attendent systems back at a time when most offices still had typewriters rather than desktop computers. Our systems, which ran on a dedicated desktop computer running DOS (this was years before Windows existed), would connect to a small-to-medium company’s internal phone system in various ways. And we had a lot of tech support horror stories from our customers.

There was the customer who kept turning off the “fan box” because he didn’t think the room was too hot, and couldn’t figure out why the system stopped working. He kept forgetting that the biege-colored metal box that the “TV thing” sat on was the actual computer. And I hasten to explain that this guy was president of a company with a few hundred employees. He wasn’t the employee in charge of the equipment, he just had this bad habit of wandering around in the evening after most of his employees had left for the day, turning things off to save electricity.

But one of my favorites is about fundamental physics, though it didn’t seem like it at first.

A lot of those phone systems back then (and a lot today, because a lot of those medium-office size switches are simple enough electronic systems that they work just fine decades later) use a couple of serial (RS-232) ports for programming and data exchange. You’d plug dozens or more standard phone lines in to connect all the phones, but for other things you’d use the data port. They were originally designed for someone to hook up a dumb terminal or teletype to program and monitor the phone system, because this was back when what laptops did exist often cost more than a relatively new car.

Our system could connect to those ports as well as a couple of phone ports to do all the call transferring and message taking and so forth. But often it wasn’t convenient or even possible to set up the computer running our software right next to the switch. So we recommended a particular 100-foot long RS-232 cable in case the systems had to be really far apart and you needed to run the cable around something.

The one we recommended had really good, clean signal because the individual wires were thicker than in cheap cables (wider diameter wire means lower resistance to electrical signal, for one thing), with really thick, durable insulation, so the cable wouldn’t be ruined simply by being stepped on a few times.

We strongly suggested that the systems be set up as close together as they could and to use a shorter cable, just because it was easier.

We had an experienced dealer who had sold one of our systems in a larger office with one of these systems that needed the serial connector, and they had ordered one of the 100-foot cables, because they thought they would need it. They set everything up, but when they were testing the system, things weren’t working right, and it was doing it in an inconsistent way.

The cable used had 25-pin connectors, whereas the phone system used 9-pin, but adaptors for that were usually reliable. The computer had one of each type, for a while we thought they had enabled the wrong port on the computer. Ports were tested, software was re-installed, the whole configuration process was gone through step-by-step. They finally decided that the cable was the problem, because they could make everything work with an 8-foot cable they happened to have, but the shorter cable was stretched tight across the room, right where people needed to walk, so they couldn’t use that one.

Because we had sold them the long cable, we wound up sending them a new one.

A different dealer technician went back to the site with the new cable a few days later. He walked into the room, and immediately knew what the problem was.

Whereas the 8-foot cable had been too short, the 100-foot cable was too long. So when they had installed the system, the other technician had carefully coiled up the extra 50-feet of cable, secured the coil with twist ties, and set the coiled middle part of the cable on a very large, humming box that was midway between the two system.

The very large box had “Danger! High Voltage!” labels on all sides. It was a big transformer for power for the entire building. And the technician had set a multiple-wound cable that was supposed to be carrying a low-voltage data signal, right on top of it.

For those that don’t know: a large electrical device such as a transformer will generate a cycling magnetic field. If you move a metal coil through a magnetic field, the field will induce electrical currents into the coil. If you place a stationary coil into a cycling magnetic field, the same thing happens.

Setting the coiled excess cable on the transformer sent an extra current into the cable, messing up the signal.

It would be like two people were trying to have a quiet, complex conversation, while four rock bands and a jet engine are pumping out all the noise the can, right on top of them.

I understand after the tech explained it, they then had to explain that, no, you couldn’t just open the transformer and remove the magnets, because there weren’t any magnets. The magnetic field is generated by the electricity. “But I thought you said the magnets made electricity?” Which apparently turned into something resembling the old Who’s On First Routine.

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